Reflections from Cuba on Martin Luther King Jr.
On April 3, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. left Atlanta for Memphis, Tennessee, for a rally in support of sanitation workers. In his prophetic speech that evening at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple he stated:
“As we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, ‘We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.’”
On the following afternoon MLK was shot dead, at age 39, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel while preparing to lead a march in support of the predominantly black Memphis sanitation workers union that were on strike.
He wasn’t alone. During the 1960s and early 1970s, hundreds of Black American activists, religious leaders and revolutionaries struggling for long overdue civil rights or political power were assassinated by FBI agents, infiltrators, the KKK, Police, Prison Guards and State Troopers in dozens of US cities and states. Others were relentlessly persecuted and forced into exile.
The same strategists who plotted the reign of terror that took hold during this period from Latin America to Southeast Asia were also quite active at home. Stopping Communism were the Cold War buzz words, both in the USA and abroad, and no blow would be too low in doing so.
Similar to the discredited Lee Harvey Oswald one-killer theory in the Nov. 22, 1963 Kennedy Assassination, most researchers believe that James Earl Ray either did not act alone or was not the killer of Dr. King.
FROM MONTGOMERY TO OSLO
Dr. King’s leadership role began shortly after civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with the Montgomery, Alabama segregation policy on buses on December 5, 1955. Black residents then began a bus boycott and elected King as their leader. Like India’s Mahatma Ghandi before him, non-violent political action became his trademark.
While some Blacks criticized MLK for seeking an unattainable justice with White America others attacked him as an extremist for moving too fast by taking the civil rights struggle across the South. Speaking from Birmingham Jail after a protest against a notoriously violent opposition to integration, MLK wrote on April 16, 1963: “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial, ‘outside agitator’ idea.”
Dr. King believed that no opportunity should be wasted to further the cause of Black Americans, a century from slavery but clearly still second class citizens. In accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964 he stated: “I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award in behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice."
GREAT SOCIETY TO VIETNAM BUILDUP
By 1967, the Johnson administration had sent hundreds of thousands of troops to prop up a corrupt South Vietnamese government. With an even greater US involvement in the making and no end in sight, Martin Luther King Jr. could see the writing on the wall. The president who had signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act had become totally wrapped up in the “domino theory” of a world communist takeover, and Vietnam was the primary battlefield. Besides the Vietnamese who suffered the most, the massive killing was falling heavy on poor Blacks drafted into a war that was supposedly fighting for a democracy that they didn’t have in their own towns and cities.
On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, MLK gave a landmark speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” at the Riverside Church in New York. Dr. King had begun to bridge the gap between part of the civil rights movement and the anti-war effort. He steadfastly maintained that the two were related and maintained that the Johnson Great Society, in which some gains were made, was all but eclipsed by the massive war buildup.
“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
MLK himself was constantly being hounded by covert agents working for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who saw commies at every turn and considered Dr. King one of them. However Dr. King was aware that the Vietnamese, his black colleagues and other anti-war activists were not the only ones on the receiving end of US government aggression.
“During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.”
THE SPIRITUAL DECAY OF THE UNITED STATES
In his book titled The Trumpet of Conscience, published in 1967, Dr. King said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Unfortunately many of the lessons of the 60s and 70s appear to have been squashed in the United States by the writers of high school history books, consumerism, Christian fundamentalism and a substitution of the word communism with terrorism. Nearly thirty-one years after the last Marine scrambled up the ladder to abandon Saigon, the US is in just as deep in the Middle East and Asia.
The carnage in Iraq has combined with record deficits and cuts in virtually all social services. In the wealthiest country on earth, an estimated 43 million US citizens are without medical insurance and millions of “illegal aliens” are under threat of deportation.
But at the same time, Dr. King’s legacy continues on as many church and civic organizations and even some countries have taken the baton of his and Ghandi’s quest for peace and justice.
Cuba, a Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, is one of them. It has fought nearly a half-century long struggle of non-violent resistance to US attempts to usurp its sovereignty by way of a relentless economic, financial and commercial blockade and uncountable terrorist acts.
While the revolution led by Fidel Castro has always maintained that a well prepared people’s defense is a deterrent to direct US aggression –a principle used during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion--, it has practiced a policy that has employed reason and justice to challenge military might and injustice.
Even though Dr. King and the Cuban Revolution were never close, the legacy of his cause has lived on in Cuba, perhaps more than in any country. When in a speech in Detroit on June 23, 1963, MLK said “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live,” he was characterizing millions of Cubans without knowing them.
When he said “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men,” he was characterizing a long list of US governments.